While gawking out the window on one of the many bus trips I have taken in the recent weeks, while spotting things such as wild horses, hitchhiking priests, or outdoor concert fundraisers, the notion that life can’t get much better spread through my mind and body like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water. I’m living the dream, and the impression became contagious as it spread to my tingling limbs and caused an ear-to-ear grin. I am spending my time fighting for a better world, spreading peace and friendship, and taking multiple jaunts to travel the globe.
I was all set to dip out and begin my second Euro trip, this time to the tiny county of Cyprus and to the Southern coast of Turkey. Unfortunately due to a cancelled and rescheduled flight I was to miss yet another holiday in Moldova, Martișor – the fancy pants name for March 1st. This blissful day welcomes in spring and bids adieu to the brutal winter that had been domesticating us since October. On this day, people give each other lapel-sized red and white synthetic flowers that denote anticipatory healthy, happy proceeding seasons. These flowers are to be sported on your left chest for the entire month of March and then will be placed on trees on the final day of March; A quaint and charming tradition. My loving students, partners, and friends presented me with nine of these lovely designs which has made me oblivious to the sensation of a pin sticking into the pectoral region of the skin.
After my acceptance of the flowers and many thanks I took a bus down to the most southern point of Moldova to break up my 12 hour bus ride (flying out of Bucharest, Romania makes vacation travel much easier and affordable). After a nice meal with fellow volunteers placed in that region, I lingered at the bus station for the overnight bus. After a 75-minute delay, I should have realized the bus just wasn’t coming. Ah, the reminders of the most frustrating part of this lifestyle… unreliability. The idea of missing my 8am flight out of Romania to Larnaca, Cyprus was starting to poison my brain as the clock was now ticking a few minutes after midnight. To make a very long and frustrating story short, we walked 2 miles to the center of town, took a taxi to the border in hopes of catching something and then bribed a friend of a friend of a friend to drive the 5 hours into Romania at a high speed so we can make our flight. Somehow, it all worked out. A sigh of fresh air, and I could finally start my vacation.
We utilized CouchSurfing, an internet site that allows travelers to locate and stay with citizens of whatever country free of charge for a „off the beaten path” insight and to make a new macro-acquaintance. Despite my profile lacking glamour, as Moldova isn’t the popular tourist destination and the couch I have to offer is really more like a floor with some pillows, we lucked out and found some takers. In Cyprus, a European Union member that few seem to know about, we stayed with a lovely Polish woman, Marta, in the south and our new Greek friend Vasilis in the North. Much like Moldova (Transnistria), a small part of Cyprus is occupied by Turkish control and in order to walk through this section, one must pass through a UN buffer zone and present their passport. Very strange. Very cool. We traveled East to beautiful beaches, West to historic side, and North to the economic baby boomer. We passed into Turkish control and ate and drank everything along the way. Not once were we equipped with an itinerary, sure of transportation schedules, or aware of our location but without a worry it always seemed to work out just fine.
We moved on to Turkey and stayed in Antalya, a city that has captured my heart just as much as fellow utopia Cape Town, South Africa. The rocky cliffs overlook beautiful views of waterfalls dispersing into the emerald green Mediterranean just past the ancient but breathtaking town of Kalechi. You look to the right and see magnificent beaches, but twist your head to the left and find some snow-capped mountains. The sights itself were incredible, but the people, food, and activities somehow one-upped them. Once again, we stayed with a local – Murat – who shortly after became a pal. He took us out to a restaurant for some traditional grub that most locals would have never known about. We, in return, hit the market and came back to cook up some good old American cuisine. While I will never forget the splendor of this city, there a few elements of this trip I will never disregard.
At every corner travel agencies beckon and offer packages to nearby attractions. Hell yeah we wanted to go. Hells no, as Peace Corps Volunteers, were we going to pay the going rate. We hopped on public transportation and figured out the rest as we went. During one excursion to which we were going to Olimpos to hike around the ruins, we were dropped off on a highway with a remaining 11km windy trek to our destination. After a bit of dumbfounded standing and self-advertising, a driver of an ice cream truck driver offered to drive us as close as possible to where we wanted to go. As we crawled at the pace of a tortoise, we discovered Ali was a good and assiduous man just interested in getting to know people from other countries. He taught us a few Turkish words and refused our money when we arrived, saying only he wished us a wonderful vacation. We hiked through knee high rivers, through wheat fields, and up to the tops of mountains that left you feeling invincible. We returned to our hosts’ home and went out for a final night of fun. As we stumbled through the doors, Murat searched the home and presented us with gifts that bear a resemblance to junk he found in storage. He wanted to give us something to remember him by and to thank us for including him in our plans, sharing some memories, and give me an emotion that grows daily within me – gratitude.
Unlike my last trip to Greece & Paris, I found myself excited to return to my village and counterparts. I had picked up some items from the Turkish Bazaar to give away for International Women’s day (a European version of Mother’s Day on steroids), and felt reenergized to push through the daily grind of community and health development. Little did I know, another flight would be scheduled that resulted in lost baggage; Little did I know Moldova’s Prime Minister was issued a vote of no confidence and my country’s government had collapsed; It doesn’t matter, I’m on a constant high. I lowered my shoulder, and got right back to where I left off. I finally submitted my grant proposal to build a park in my community and organized a seminar for the Professors about discrimination and stereotypes. Although I am competing against 16 other wonderful colleagues for grant money and although only 9 teachers showed up to my seminar, my inspiring volunteer peers helped me to switch out my frustration for pride in the small victories that come along the way. My community knows I am here to stay, they know I am determined. Wonderfully (and now that I can actually say them in the native tongue), they are letting my voice my opinions and aren’t reluctant to accept them. It’s not them that are surprised; it’s me. While I don’t want to date an 11th grader as we must have different definitions of statutory rape or just super awkward dates, it is becoming crystal clear that I will learn just as much from them as they will from me. Home sweet, Moldova.